Format: Readability #screenwriting

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“Essentials of Screenwriting” By Richard Walter on Amazon.com

Don’t target your features to either theatrical or television release. A feature is a feature.

Titles should be abrupt, quick, and to the point. Try your title out like this: say “Hey, let’s go see (title).” Does that sound good? Would people start saying “Let’s go see that something something-or-other film. The one about those guys who work out all the time. You know, with that huge guy in it?”

No casting suggestions or list of dramatis personae.

Don’t help actors get to know your characters. Don’t get to know your own characters. If your character were a candy bar, what kind of candy bar would she be? Hamlet was: Prince of Denmark. That’s it. His character unfolds through word and action. He has no backstory. Characters become what they do and what they say in that story at that moment.

Master scenes only. HOT DOG STAND. Don’t write or think in specific shots. Don’t try to zoom in on a character’s face, then try to cut to the other character’s face, just describe naturally what they’re doing and saying.

Be careful not to model your scripts after shooting scripts, published versions of scripts, or scripts written by William Goldman. William Goldman gets to write like that because he’s William Goldman. If you want to try to write like that, go for it, but it’s risky. Do what works first, then establish your own style.

Avoid referring to specific shots or camera equipment. Write using normal words. Include objects and scenery but leave out specifics. The sunrise will look like the one that comes up when the camera’s rolling, not like the one painted in your imagination.

Don’t write CUT TO: what else would happen? Are they just going to leave in all the footage of actors standing around?

The editors will figure out when stuff dissolves, fades, jump cuts, etc.

Avoid the POV shot, or any shot, unless it somehow clarifies the story.

We see and we hear. You could write, We hear the SOUND of ENGINES. Or you could write SOUND of ENGINES. Shorter. Who is we, anyway? I imagine siting in the room with the screenwriter and some other people. That’s distracting.

Always use present tense.

It’s not necessary to indicate a flashback. It might make things clearer, but you can just cut to the flashback scene. If your writing is clear, it will be clear what’s happening.

Sometimes you have to cheat though. The screenplay is just words. Don’t make reader work too hard. If it saves a lot if grief, just say the two guys are brothers up front. This is not technically proper writing, but we have no clues like the ones you’d get onscreen from the actors, etc., so always err on the side of readability. Sometimes a reminder helps. He’s the guy we saw at the back of the laundry earlier.

Please take a couple minutes to help fellow screenwriters by taking this survey on what topics YOU are interested in!

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